Liturgical Hospitality

Liturgical Hospitality:

The Liturgy For The People

Have you ever been in a church and felt completely alone or like you stepped into a country club without your membership?

Have you ever been in a church where the context of the expression was so foreign that you could not engage in it for the life of you?

Have you ever been a part of a church where the mission and values are based on an individual's preference and was far from what the community actually needed or wanted?  

           Now, think about this for a second: Remember back on a very lovely evening when you walked into a friend's warm home and that friend greeted you with a comfortable embrace. Perhaps they handed you a glass of wine, and took your jacket. Did this experience make you feel like family? Did this experience make you feel valued and welcome? If yes, then this is the nature of hospitality. 

           Liturgy is for the people and the community as a whole. Leaders in the Church must cultivate hospitable environments that allow authentic worship, opportunities for change, and cultural relevance to inspire action. The Church is one long table and each smaller church community is an extension of that table. Everyone is invited. Conservatives. Liberals. Moderates. Atheists. Donald Trump. The LGBT community. Poor. Rich. Refugees. Immigrants. Muslims. The list can go on forever. If we can actually make room at the table and put the unlikely in the front, then we are cultivating liturgical hospitality. 

            Leaders of the Church cannot force people to become something or someone else. They can only create spaces for authentic worship where change could be possible. Author and theologian Henri Nouwen writes, “Just as we cannot force a plant to grow but can take away the weeds and stones which prevent its development, so we cannot force anyone to such a personal and intimate change of heart, but we can offer the space where such a change can take place." The liturgy is for the people and the leaders of the Church must examine the culture and the needs of the people, and to a larger degree ­– the city. 

            It is the job for the leaders to discover what must be done. It is their job to create a space for growth. It is their job to add more chairs to the table and to deliver the meal. In order do to this, Church leaders must learn the essence of hospitality. 

The Fundamentals of Hospitality

            The Culinary Institute of America gives nine principles of hospitality that can effectively be applied liturgically. They say remarkable service is: welcoming, friendly, and courteous, knowledgeable, efficient, well-timed, flexible, consistent, communicating effectively, instilling trust, and exceeding expectations. If the leaders of the Church do not cultivate a welcoming and friendly environment immediately, then people will have a hard time hearing what they have to say and even trusting if their food was properly handled. The Church must be hospitable from the start of the liturgy to the end of the liturgy and beyond.

            The CIA continues to say, “A warm, friendly welcome assures guests that they can relax and enjoy their meal. By the same token, a warm good-bye makes guests feel appreciated and encouraged to return." Using the same language, this can be viewed as the Eucharist and the Benediction. In a church context where the Eucharist is the centerpiece of the liturgy, everything done is leading up to the point of communion – the meal. Christ is displayed all the way up until He is received at communion. Christ must continue to be displayed after the people are sent out from the Benediction.

            If the liturgy is loving and efficient on a consistent basis then people can learn to trust the leaders. If the leaders can be flexible in the times of need, but never wavering in love, they can exceed the expectations of their people. Knowledge in the Word is not enough, but an extension of love in everything done is critical for spiritual formation. Hospitality is giving remarkable service. Liturgical hospitality is caring for every individual that steps through the door. 

Hospitality and The Early Church

            The beginning of liturgical hospitality can be seen in the early church when the Apostles began to reach beyond the Jews and extend their hands to the Gentiles. Saint Paul was a competent leader of this movement and helped carry the Gospel message farther than any other apostle as part of obedience to his faith. The origin of this ideological shift began when Jesus was often seen having dinner with despised people such as: prostitutes, tax collectors, and other types of sinners who were rejected by the common people (Matt. 2:15-17). From Transforming Mission, David Bosch says, “What amazes one again and again is the inclusiveness of Jesus’ mission. It embraces both the poor and the rich, both the oppressed and the oppressor, both the sinners and the devout.” Jesus made room at the table for everyone and often the most unlikely. 

             More and more Church leaders saw hospitality as part of their mission modeled by Jesus and Paul. Even though change is hard for everyone, Christianity grew because of the extension to different cultures. As the Gospel moved forward, action steps toward a more welcoming faith had to be done. Some examples are clearing the Gentiles of the circumcision expectation (I am sure they were very thankful), as well as certain Jewish dietary restrictions. For the sake of allowing Christianity to be accessible for other cultures, Church leaders and evangelists had to learn to appropriately adapt. This decision allowed the Gospel to fly.

Culture and Christianity

            Christianity cannot and should not be subject to one culture. It must be malleable to other expressions. David Bosch says, “The fledgling Christian movement could either remain with the confines of the small Jewish world or branch out into the ecumene.” The Church should be inclusive to the sinner and to the saint, to the Greek, to the Roman, and to the Jew, to the immigrant, to the refugee, and to the Muslim, and also to the Anglican and to the Evangelical. The leadership of the Church must be welcoming of people with different worship expressions and should not be swift to impose liturgical changes that could be uncomfortable for a worshipping community. However, the unwillingness to change can be just as harmful as changing too quickly. Learning to be hospitable knows when to make a change and when not to make a change.  

Individualism and The Church

            Friar Richard Rohr says, “Individualism makes church almost impossible.” Liturgy is for the people, and should not be cultivated around one individual’s personality or liturgical bend. In hyper-Evangelicalism, often times the Church operates as an event driven business that markets itself around the brand of the church or the personality of a pastor. A popular nickname for this kind of pastor is “ The Rock Star Pastor.” This does not mean that every pastor who speaks with charisma, dresses stylishly, or has a large congregation makes him or her a “rock star pastor.” Pastors who fail to approach the podium in humility, who emphasize their life more than the Holy Scriptures, or who focus on building campaigns more than the spiritual health of the body often fall into this category. Individualism can be harmful for the spiritual health of the Church, because it places the individual in the center of the sanctuary instead of the cross. A great communicator cannot stand on it’s own. Ed Stetzer says, “A gifted communicator can draw a crowd, but biblical community will sustain a congregation. A great orator is fun to have at worship, but cannot build community during the other six days and twenty-three hours of the week.” Biblical sustainability and spiritual formation must be the purpose of Sunday morning worship.

            Someone once said, “The Gospel came to the Greeks, and the Greeks turned it into a philosophy. The Gospel came to the Romans, and the Romans turned it into a system. The Gospel came to the Europeans, and the Europeans turned it into a culture. The Gospel came to America, and the Americans turned it into a business.” Helping people worship and find refuge is part of liturgical hospitality. If the people feel like they are a business transaction then they can lose their trust and authentic connection. 

The Old and The New

            In the New Testament, the Greek word for “hospitality” literally means, “love for strangers.” To Evangelicals, Anglicans are strangers and their liturgy is very different. To Anglicans, Evangelicals are strange and their services are even stranger. Before the Church can learn to love the rest of the world, the Church needs to break down the denominational walls and love one another. It is the responsibility of humanity to celebrate one another’s differences. It is the responsibility of the Church to celebrate the differences of tradition. The variety of differences in worship and formation is an ocean for anyone to swim in. Raimon Panikkar says hospitality is “essential to anyone who harbors feelings that are fully human; feelings, I might go so far to say, that are indicative of a good state of health.”

            The Gospel message infuses the spirit of hospitality. In The Limits of Hospitality, Jessica Wrobleski writes, “Certainly, the force of the Gospel message challenges any arbitrary limits to hospitality…and encourages Christians to adopt a posture of openness, a spirit of hospitality that recognizes that one is both a guest of and cohost with God in Christ and that also seeks to welcome Christ in every needy stranger.” Walking in the ways of Jesus allows us to make room at the table for people that are different than us. The leaders of the Church must make room for different types of worship and look for unification in differences and common relations.

            The formation of worship is at it’s fullest potential when it operates within in the old and within the new. From Desiring the Kingdom, James K.A. Smith writes,

We are called to be a people of memory, who are shaped by a tradition that is millennia older than the last Billboard chart. And we are also called to be a people of expectation, praying for and looking forward to a coming kingdom that will break in upon our present as a thief in the night. We are a stretched people, citizens of a kingdom that is both older and new than anything offered by ‘the contemporary.’ The practices of Christian worship over the liturgical year form in us something of an ‘old soul’ that is perpetually pointed to a future, longing for a coming kingdom, and seeking to be a stretched people in the present who are a foretaste of the coming kingdom.


It is critical for the leaders in the Church to trust the liturgy that has been around for ages. It is important to consider adapting the expression of worship to a modern sound, but the content of the liturgy must lie within the history of the Church.

            As an Evangelical becoming an Evangelical Anglican, I desire to be a leader in the Church who can apply historical liturgy in modern church settings to cultivate hospitable worship environments for people of different church backgrounds. I desire to express worship with a modern sound, but I do not desire to neglect the history of the Church. There are beautifully crafted liturgies found in The Book of Common Prayer that must be used. Existing churches should be open to analyzing their liturgy for the consideration of updating it to a modern sound or a sacramental focus. For myself I ask the question, "How can I appropriately adapt to an existing culture, but bring an efficient and fresh perspective to a people that can benefit from a liturgical change?" Beauty lies within the old and within the new. The liturgy is for the people, and we must be open to the restructuring of the Church and the deconstructing of liturgical segregation.

The Table

            The table is much bigger than we think. It's Christ's table and it's a good thing we didn't build it. Everyone is welcomed and everyone is family. If we were entrusted to make our own table, it would be very small and dominant in a niche culture. We must learn to scoot our seat down and make room for difference and variety. We must learn to view each other as one and not "other."  We must learn to see ourselves as different shades of color, but still one family. As Church leaders, let's actually lead in this way. We can help guide the Christian voice that often sounds unloving. We can cultivate liturgical hospitality. 

Will Retherford